Prior to SpaceX using their net-equipped boats in catching falling rocket payload fairings, this hardware was only designed to be used once and then discarded, usually in the ocean after its flight.
But two years ago, SpaceX made history as they used former offshore supply vessels equipped with a large bright-yellow net that spans nearly 40,000 square feet (3,700 square meters) to catch the falling rocket nose cone.
However, the private space company retired its net-equipped boats in April after realizing that catching falling payload fairings are trickier than expected. The company said they are looking for another avenue to catch this hardware now that the boats are retired.
SpaceX's Net-Equipped Boats First Mission
In 2019, The Verge reported that SpaceX caught part of the Falcon Heavy rocket's nose cone when it fell back to Earth, which is the first time to ever happen in the history of spaceflight. The rocket nose cone broke away from the Falcon Heavy rocket and parachuted back to the surface, where it landed on the giant net-equipped boat of SpaceX.
The payload fairing is the bulbous structure of the rocket, which costs $6 million to make that encases the payload during launch and protects it during the initial climb before breaking apart into halves when the rocket is already in space.
Since the company is pushing for reusing rockets, Elon Musk thought of recovering the fairing halves from reusing them. SpaceX has been trying the technique before 2019 and made modifications for better performance, such as making the net bigger to easily catch the fairings.
SpaceX's net-equipped boat was named Mr. Steven and later on, changed its name to GO Ms. Tree. Shortly after, the company introduced another net-equipped boat called Ms. Chief that is identical to Ms. Tree, adorned with four robotic arms and a giant net. The duo worked together to catch payload fairings.
Sadly, the company decided to retire them to look for another avenue of recovering used rocket nose cones. Catching them has proven to be trickier than the company expected, which is why they will no longer be used in future missions.
SpaceX Looks for Another Recovery Methods
Space.com reported that a number of uncontrollable factors have led to the retirement of Ms. Tree ad Ms. Chief, such as sea states, winds, and other weather conditions. Although SpaceX has already made several modifications to its fairing pieces to allow them to stand up to saltwater's corrosive nature, the boats' arms were easily damaged by rough seas.
SpaceX announced that following the retirement of their net-equipped boats, they would be looking for another avenue for recovery efforts, like the recovery vessels they use for their Dragon spacecraft splashdown.
The two main ships for Dragon spacecraft splashdown recovery are GO Searcher and GO Navigator and GO Quest that helped in the company's fairing recovery efforts. The company has also contacted boats named Shelia Bordelon and HOS Briarwood to help with recovery efforts when its boats are occupied.
One of Mr. Steven’s final West Coast fairing recovery tests before shipping out for the East Coast. Wait for it… pic.twitter.com/A7q37Gpllu— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 30, 2019
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